Diamondbacks utility players offer Lovullo ‘invaluable’ flexibility
PHOENIX — In Major League Baseball, everyday star players who slot into the same position on a game-to-game basis tend to garner the most praise throughout the long haul of a 162-game season. Utility players who can reliably play at multiple spots across the diamond, however, are the unsung heroes of MLB rosters who make managers’ jobs easier.
For the Arizona Diamondbacks, Daniel Descalso and Chris Owings are two who provide that flexibility for manager Torey Lovullo.
Descalso has played primarily at third this year, but he’s also spent at least one game at second base, left field, first base, designated hitter and even pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning in early May during a blowout loss to the Houston Astros (recording his first career strikeout in the process).
“I think over the years that I’ve been (playing multiple positions), I kind of just have adopted the ‘whatever I can do to help us win on a given night.’ That’s what I show up to the field trying to do,” Descalso said.
The veteran, 31, said that Lovullo and the coaching staff do a good job of letting him know in advance where he’ll be playing, so there are rarely surprises when he shows up to the ballpark.
“If I need to get some work in at a spot I haven’t played in a while, I can go ahead and do that, so that I can always try to stay prepared,” Descalso said.
The most difficult thing about being relied upon to hold down multiple positions and spell certain guys when they need a day of rest throughout the season, Descalso said, is the variety of defensive situations a player can see out in the field.
“With different positions you get different angles, different plays,” Descalso said. “Obviously, if you play third base the ball is going to get on you a little quicker from right-handed pull hitters. Second base, you’ve got to turn double plays. If I play first, it’s holding guys on, maybe coming off the bag fielding ground balls. So, just the different plays you encounter at different positions.”
Owings, meanwhile, has spent most of his time in right field this season, but he’s also played at least one game at third base, left field, center field and second base.
Like Descalso, Owings credited his manager for being proactive about communicating his roles in advance.
“Torey does a really good job of letting me know where I’m going to be playing the next day,” Owings said. “So, if we have a night game coming the next day, for me, it allows me to come to the field and prepare at that one position all day.”
Owings said that preparedness comes from experience. He’s been asked to play a variety of positions (infield and outfield) dating back to 2016.
Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. praised his teammates for their ability not only to play different positions but also to compete at a high level in those spots.
“It’s huge. I mean, C.O. (Owings) doesn’t just play them, he plays them really well,” Souza said. “I think that’s a big difference. It’s one thing to have a guy that can just go up there when you need a body. But when you have a guy like C.O. that can play them really well, it’s really valuable. You just can’t replace it.”
When discussing Descalso, Souza complimented his veteran savvy and ability to impact the game in a positive way.
“It just seems like wherever you put him, he just finds a way to come up clutch with a big play, big hit, something,” Souza said.
With the rash of injuries this team has dealt with in 2018 — including stints on the disabled list for third baseman Jake Lamb as well as outfielders A.J. Pollock and Souza — Lovullo has had little choice but to ask his guys to fill in where they’re needed.
“It’s invaluable,” Lovullo said of pros like Descalso and Owings playing at different spots. “They’re not fazed by it. It’s a hard job, but I think good teams have guys that fill those (roles).”
Lovullo said that the strategy of in-game substitutions and double switches are made easier when a team has players who are comfortable playing at different spots.
“What they do every single day gives me a lot of wiggle room,” he said.